Reviewed on videocassette, Houston, Dec. 27, 1999. (In San Francisco Independent Film Festival.) Running time: 130 MIN.
With: John Davies, Marsha Dietlein, Susana Gibb, Meason Wiley, Rebecca Sanabria, Brandy Little, Jonathan Brent, Kirk Kelley Kahn, Forrest Denbow, Gail Cronauer.
After nearly two years of exposure at various North American film festivals, “Detention” remains a dubious prospect for wide theatrical release. Small-budget indie boasts polished production values and a clever premise, but excessive length and inconsistent tone are major handicaps. Despite the abundance of attractive young thesps in key roles, pic skews toward a 30-plus demographic and appears best suited for playoff on homevid and pay cable.
Faintly echoing a subplot from 1984’s “Teachers,” writer-helmer Andy Anderson contrives for an affable former mental patient (John Davies) to luck into a job as substitute teacher at a suburban high school where most faculty members are cynical burnouts and most students are surly underachievers. Failing to reach them with conventional methods, teach brings a handful of the best and brightest to a remote campground, where he keeps them caged while force-feeding a back-to-basics curriculum. Pic comes perilously close to condoning the kind of thought-control that “A Clockwork Orange” warned against. But Davies is aptly ambiguous and not entirely sympathetic. Teen and twentysomething auds likely will find “Detention” too authoritarian, if not downright reactionary, but older viewers may be amused.